I remember as a kid in the late 1970s that where I lived there were three television stations & no cable or VCRs or home video games. My oldest brother is seven years older than me & the big thing with him & his friends was coming over to the house & playing whatever new vinyl record loud enough to rattle the paneling on the wall. It was a social event. New albums & a decent stereo were the center of the social world & what made you the coolest kid in school & my family’s house was a center for cool. Every new Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, or Kiss release meant a week of non-stop rocking.
A couple of years later my other brother hit high school, the center of things in teenage social events had shifted from music to a couple of things; the Atari gaming system & the VCR. This time around our family wasn’t at the center of a social circle & my brother spent most afternoons at some other family’s house. Until my dad broke down & got us the Atari & VCR so that thirty years later I can still close my eyes & pretend I’m playing Yars’ Revenge & still have dreams inspired by watching Dawn of the Dead when I was eight.
By the time I hit high school the hip things were the Nintendo/Sega & folks with a hundred channels on the television. Music had definitely been skirted onto the fringe with the exception of whatever happened to be on MTV unless you were part of a sub-culture (punk or metal at the time, I fell in with the metal kids & consequently spent most of my afternoons sitting at home listening to Slayer & Danzig on headphones). In addition to the innovations in television & gaming competing as the center of the social circle, something else was happening to music that I was too young to notice at the time. The Sony Walkman & the proliferation of headphones had shifted things around. Not only were people able to listen to music anywhere & everywhere, they listened to music alone with headphones rather than in small groups. An album was no longer something for a group of fans to listen to & discuss, it was now a solitary & individual experience. Instead of inviting someone over to listen to a record, I found myself giving people cassette copies of albums the best way to share music.
Fast-forward twenty years. People are wondering why people don’t want to pay for music. For twenty-five years music has been falling out of favor as a community event & being a community event is the secret to what made music so special & powerful & life changing. Ask ten people under 30 to name ten albums that influenced their life, ask ten people 35 to 55 the same question. Even the older folks who aren’t music fans have answers. Times have changed slowly & surely. Probably 40 years ago we could have seen the same discussion about Broadway shows (the relics of my mother’s love for musicals has me knowing a hundred songs from shows I’ve never seen that she sang to me as a child) or television programs like Milton Berle or Red Skelton or Ed Sullivan that I only know of by name.
Today it seems like as we continue to get more technologically advanced, we are continuing to get more physically & socially isolated. Movies seem to have become something to watch at home alone. Video games seem to be something to occupy single men’s free time. So where are we headed? Is Facebook as close as we get to social interaction? Is there going to be some artistic thing that will cause people to gather together? Will plays come back in vogue? Will young people start to gather in cells to make their own films & music? Will churches be the main answer to the need for social events as they were in the 1800s? Give us 30 years & whatever it is will be so obvious that we can’t believe it ever wasn’t central or ever won’t be central to society.